Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Corbyn Should Now Take The Opportunity To Slash The Size of The Shadow Cabinet

For weeks before the New year, the Blair-rights had been circulating rumours of a "Revenge Reshuffle", as Phil has previously discussed.  The intention was clear; to put Corbyn in a Catch 22 situation.  If he did act to sack all of those who have been openly undermining the Leadership from front bench positions, it would support their contention that he was imposing a hard left discipline on the party.  In recent days, former Blair-right ministers like Chris Leslie, even appeared on The Daily Politics, to talk ridiculously about the imposition of these "hard left" politics, and the inability of the "hard left" to tolerate dissent.  If, however, Corbyn did allow such dissent to continue, by failing to sack any of these frontbenchers, who have spent more time attacking him and the leadership, it would prove that he was weak and indecisive, hence all of the hype about how long the reshuffle was taking.

Leslie and others talk in ridiculous hyperbole.  Anyone would think that Blair was the most tolerant of politicians, against those who dissented from his line.  The impression is given that Neil Kinnock, and those after him never did go about imposing a damaging civil war on the party in the 1980's, to remove dissent from their left, to close down branch after branch, CLP after CLP that failed to toe the line absolutely.

In 1988, I was selected by my new branch LP, to stand in the County Council elections of the following year.  Before that process even got going, the regional LP sent its representative to tell the Branch that if they continued with my selection, they would be closed down.  A reason was given to hold the selection meeting again, and rather than see the Branch closed down, I withdrew my nomination.

In fact, I have sympathy with the idea that the party should be able to expect loyalty from those it elects to represent it.  In 1983, having rebelled and been expelled from the Stoke City Labour Group, for refusing to support a rent increase, I defended my position, on the grounds that it was Stoke District Labour Party policy - a policy I had helped develop - as well as my ward's policy, and the policy upon which I had been both selected, and elected.  A few months later in 1984, when it was clear that my ward party were not going to stand behind me, and my support for the policy of opposing cuts, I did what I thought was the rational and principled thing to do, which was to resign the seat, and to explain publicly why, I had done so!  I was not in the chamber to hear it, but apparently, from what other comrades told me, it was a sight to see the Town Clerk, in full regalia, read out my letter of resignation, talking of my commitment to supporting the working-class, including the City Works Department, who had just gone on strike, and basically being a statement of revolutionary principles!

But, its for that reason that Corbyn should actually be glad that some of these Blair-right Shadow Ministers have jumped ship, to follow those that have been sacked.  He has a bad enough task with a PLP that is so far out of step, not just with the views of the vast majority of the party, but even with large sections of traditional Labour voters, without that problem being compounded, by sniping from the front benches.  He has, though, missed an opportunity that he should correct in the near future.

Today, and in more recent times, there are far more Government Ministers, and consequently Shadow Ministers, than there were in times gone by.  The reason that situation has arisen, is that government became an elected dictatorship.  The power of patronage of the Prime Minister, to appoint getting on for a third of the Parliamentary Party - of either party - was a means of bribing them into quietude.   If they though they might lose their position, they would not rebel, and if they though the government might be brought down, by a defeat, leading to an election, they would be even more placid.  Because, the government operated on that basis, so did the opposition.  But, there is no reason for Corbyn to continue that corrupt politics.

That is especially the case, if it doesn't even work to keep those shadow ministers loyal.  Effective government, and effective opposition can be achieved with far fewer Ministers.  Corbyn should take the opportunity to slash the number of shadow Ministers, and the size of the Shadow Cabinet.  In that way, filling that smaller number of posts with loyal, capable MP's becomes easier, and there are fewer Ministers who the Tory media can rely on to act as their vehicle for sowing dissent.  What the smaller number of loyal Ministers would then require is effective support, to provide them with the information required to do the job, and hold the Tories to account.  Given that the PLP is so out of touch with the rest of the party, Corbyn, therefore, needs to use the resources of the party at large, and its supporters, to a far greater extent to back up those loyal Ministers.  That is a task for Momentum, and it is also a task for a set of democratised and reformed Policy Forums, as well as the research departments of the TUC, trades unions, and co-operative organisations.

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